What happens when large, and largely low-paid, sectors of the economy are derailed by a pandemic? Average wages rise to the stratosphere.
It’s largely a statistical anomaly, and doesn’t mean those keeping their jobs saw big boosts in pay – if they saw any at all – but the average weekly wage in the fourth quarter of 2020 was up 13 percent from a year before to $1,339, according to new data from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The new figures provide a stark showcase showing how segments of the market such as retail and hospitality saw massive unemployment, while higher-paid sectors of the market in some ways went unscathed by the economic fallout of the pandemic, particularly with the federal government working overtime printing money to prop things up.
In the local area, the situation was generally the same as nationally, albeit with larger dollar figures attached:
• In Arlington, the average weekly wage of $2,227 in the fourth quarter was up 13 percent from a year before.
• In Fairfax County, the weekly wage of $1,992 was up 14.9 percent.
• In Alexandria, the weekly wage of $1,832 was up 11.2 percent.
• In Loudoun County, the average weekly wage of $1,571 was up 11.2 percent.
• In Prince William County, the average weekly wage of $1,161 was up 13.2 percent.
Downstate, wages rose by comparable percentages: Up 13.1 percent to $1,483 in Richmond; up 11 percent to $1,303 in Norfolk; up 11.1 percent to $1,228 in Chesapeake; and up 12.8 percent to $1,030 in Virginia Beach.
Nationally, it was pricey areas of California and New York that saw average wages explode – fueled in part by more draconian lockdowns that disproportionately threw low-income workers out of their jobs for longer periods.
Santa Clara, Calif., recorded a weekly wage of $3,690, up 30.6 percent from a year before, while San Francisco was not far behind, its $3,646 average being up a whopping 44.3 percent. San Mateo, Calif., was up 31 percent to $3,435 per week, while Manhattan (New York County, N.Y.) rose 20.9 percent to $3,069.
All those meteoric rises are scant comfort to the millions who found themselves out of jobs due to no fault of their own.
In the fourth quarter of 2020, employment was down from pre-pandemic levels in 353 of the 357 largest U.S. counties, with total employment down 6.1 percent.
The biggest gainer over the period was Utah County, Utah, where increases in professional and business-services jobs pushed employment up 3.8 percent from it pre-pandemic rate. By contrast, employment in Maui – where hospitality jobs were almost cut in half – saw a 23-percent decline in jobs from a year before.